Horbat Ha-Gardi, as in the name of the Hasmonean Yohanan Ha-Gardi (from the verb garad, meaning to weave; some say it is a name for a furrier), is a relatively new name from the 1950s or 60s for Horbat Sheikh Gharbawi. There are those who interpret the name Gharbawi as ‘the sheikh from the west’ or ‘owner of the cart’ (Z. Vilnai 1985. Matzevot Kodesh Be'eretz Yisrael II, Jerusalem, p. 13). Clermont-Ganneau proposed the name Horbat Sitt Gharbawi (‘the saintly lady Gharbawi’); by swapping or dropping letters one can read سثة غبراء,that is ‘the six tombs’ (C. Clermont-Ganneau 1896. Archaeological Researches in Palestine. London, p. 359).
The ruin consists of two sites (Fig. 2): the tomb of Sheikh Gharbawi (Fig. 3) and 18 m to the north, the remains of a magnificent structure (below), which the local villagers refer to as al-Qala‘a (the fortress). Horbat Ha-Gardi is the northern of three ruins; the other two being Khirbat Hammam and Kabur el-Yahud (Tombs of the Jews), which extend across the ridge that borders Nahal Modi‘in on the west (see Fig. 1).
Much has been written about the site and summaries of these writings can be found in the literature and popular publications.Nevertheless, a brief summary of the findings is presented hereafter, hoping to rekindle one’s research curiosity of this important site and clarify the results of the renewed activity.
The myth of the Maccabees, identifying ancient Modi‘in—the seat of the Maccabees, the place where the revolt against the Greeks broke out in 167 BCE and especially the family tomb where they were interred—attracted the first scholars of the Land of Israel to the region in the nineteenth century. What they had in mind was the tomb, described in detail in I Maccabees (13:27–30) and in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus of the first century CE, in Antiquities of the Jews (XIII, 211–213). The church fathers Eusebius and Hieronymus also describe Modi‘in and the tomb monument. The tomb also appears on the Madaba Map of the sixth century CE. We know from historical sources that Modi‘in was situated close to Lod (Diospolis), on the main road leading from the Shephelah up to Jerusalem.
The Franciscan monk, Emmanuel Forner, published in 1866 a news brief in the French newspaper Le Monde, in which he identified ancient Modi‘in with the village El-Midya. The origin of this identification lies in the phonetic similarity of the names and the proximity of the village to Lod (V. Guérin 1984. Description of Samaria, Jerusalem, 1:289).
Following the identification by Forner, Victor Guérin, the renowned traveler and Land of Israel scholar visited the village in 1870 (V. Guérin 1984: 1:281–295).After questioning the village elders, he concentrated on the ridge west of Nahal Modi‘in, opposite the village, where three ancient ruins are present: Kabur el-Yahud, Khirbat el-Hammam and Khirbat el-Gharbawi (Tomb of the Sheikh). According to the villagers, the three compounds constituted one entire city that they called Khirbat el-Midya. Guérin was excited about the new information and wrote, “So, there, and not in the village of the same name, the remains of the city of Modi'in should be sought”. He decided to excavate the remains of an impressive rectangular structure (6.5 × 25.0 m) built of fine ashlars next to the sheikh’s tomb that the local inhabitants call al-Qala‘a (the fortress). He cleaned the corners of the structure and the tops of the walls and focused on the eastern part where he exposed a burial chamber (Fig. 4:1) that he believed was covered with a pyramid-like construction, as described in the Book of Maccabees and by Josephus. He also maintained that the structure contained seven tombs, corresponding to the number of the Maccabee brothers and their parents. Guérin found fragments of monumental stone columns next to the structure, which he ascribed to the colonnaded exedra that enclosed the tomb and is described in the ancient sources. He concluded that “Indeed there is no room for doubt: I really found the tomb of the Maccabees and the dugout that I uncovered held Matityahu’s ashes”.
Following his discoveries, Guérin hurried to Jerusalem to report to the French consul Sankevich and afterward, urgently called on the architect Moss to consult with him. Upon hearing of the discovery, Moss also rushed to the site and declared that the cemetery exposed by Guérin has five burial chambers with room for seven interments. He writes in his report that “the ruins of the tomb at el-Midya absolutely match the Tomb of the Maccabees, as it is described in the sources” (Guérin 1984 1:286).
Clermont-Ganneau, the devout Christian and pedantic French archaeologist, also decided to solve the conundrum of the tomb and in September 1871, he conducted a six-day excavation in the structure described by Guérin (Clermont-Ganneau 1896:358–374). To date, his work is the most comprehensive done at the site and the excavation report is supplemented with informative drawings and plans. Clermont-Ganneau revealed an impressive rectangular structure built of fine ashlars (Fig. 4) and aligned east–west (6 × 26 m). The walls of the structure (average width 1.3 m), preserved 3.5 m high, were built of fine ashlars (average size 0.5 × 0.9 m) that fitted together precisely. The structure had four built chambers (Fig. 4:1–4) that are not connected to each other and their doorways are set in the northern side. The eastern chamber (1), which Guérin had exposed and believed it was topped with a kind of pyramid, is exceptionally well-constructed. It is square (6 × 6 m), with four well-built pillars (I–IV; 2.25 × 2.25 m) in its four corners, whose bases are hewn in the bedrock; the pillars support a roof of especially large stone slabs (0.75 × 3.00 m, thickness 0.6 m) that rest on shaped cornices (Fig. 5). These apparently bore the weight of a second story; however, in Clermont-Ganneau’s opinion it was doubtful if this was a pyramid. Burial troughs (Fig. 4: A–C; average dimensions 1.1 × 2.0 m) are either rock-hewn or built along the walls of the chamber, except for the northern side, which has a rectangular opening of fine construction, covered with a well-built semicircular arch. On the inside of the opening, one can discern doorjambs that opened on both sides and were designed to take a door that opened into the burial chamber. After he excavated a small section north of the doorway and exposed two parallel walls outside the burial chamber (W1A, W3A), which flanked the opening on either side, Clermont-Ganneau concluded that a vestibule led to the burial chamber. Sections of mosaic pavement of small tesserae were discovered in the floor of the vestibule (Fig. 4: L30) and the floor of the burial chamber. The bottom of the eastern burial trough (Fig. 4: B) was also adorned with a colorful mosaic bearing a crux immissa motif that Clermont-Ganneau believed did not predate the fifth century CE. Mosaic remains were also found on the bottom of the neighboring burial troughs.
Clermont-Ganneau noted three construction phases that probably represented several periods, based on an analysis of the building styles and the relationship between the walls. In the first phase, an arcosolium-type burial cave, characteristic of the Byzantine period, was hewn (in the base of Room 1). This was followed by the removal of the cave’s ceiling; the upper part was rebuilt with impressive construction over the shaped opening, the pillars and the corridor; and Room 2 was built. Rooms 3 and 4 were built in the last phase. On the plan of the building, Clermont-Ganneau indicated a massive wall beneath the walls of Room 1 (Fig. 4; W11), whose nature is unclear.
In the wake of his excavations, Clermont-Ganneau resolutely declared that Guérin’s conclusions were rash and that the purpose of the structure is still unknown and in any case, it seems that the impressive construction was from the Byzantine period and the nature of the building is Christian. Clermont-Ganneau did not rule out the possibly that unequivocal evidence will be found in the future, indicating that the site is the burial place of the Maccabees. He also added that “this structure was probably built by the Christians to commemorate the burial place of the holy Maccabees.”
Lieutenant Claude Reignier Conder visited the site in 1873 on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Society. He was impressed with the structure and declared that he had never seen a building identical to this in his explorations around the country (C.R. Conder 1873. Jerusalem and El Midyeh. PEQ 5:94). He returned to the site in 1874, accompanied by Charles Tyrwhitt Drake, an English scholar who was also a member of the British research expedition. Drake, who sketched a reconstruction of the tombs, stated decisively, “In my opinion there is no doubt that these are the tombs of the Maccabees” (T. Drake 1874. Mr. Tyrwhitt Drake’s Report. PEQ 6:78).
At this point, Conder and Guérin quarreled in a series of articles over the right of claiming who was the first to identify El-Midyeh with ancient Modi‘in, if it is reserved for the priest Emmanuel Forner or Charles Sandreczki, who in 1869 identified the tombs of the Maccabees with the arcosolia tombs at the site of Kabur el-Yahud (the traditional tombs of the Maccabees; C.H. Sandreczki 1870. The Rock Tombs of El Medyeh. PEQ 1:245–251). We know today that the identification by Sandreczki is incorrect, both from an archaeological and historic standpoint. A debate also centered on who identified the tomb of the Maccabees in the magnificent structure next to the tomb of Sheikh Gharbawi. Moreover, Guérin had to cope with serious and pointed allegations from Conder, regarding the quality of his excavations at the site (Guérin 1984:288–295).
During the War of Independence in 1948, Outpost 219 was established at the site, opposite the Arab Legion; to this day, one can discern shallow communication trenches west of the sheikh’s tomb, which were dug inside the ruin and brought ancient architectural remains to the surface.
Over the years the impressive structure was forgotten and plundered, its stones were taken for construction in the surrounding villages. Heaps of ruins and building stone collapse cover what remained of it. The conifers planted by the Jewish National Fund in the 1950s shade the neglect and desolation that currently prevail at the site.
Two people who loved the area and were pioneers in the modern research of this region were the late Y. Pereg and the geographer Z. Baram. They also worked unceasingly in their effort to inform the public of how unique and important this place really is. Baram, collaborating with the archaeologist Z. Ilan in 1980, succeeded in conducting a small trial excavation to locate the structure, and indeed the exterior walls were partly re-exposed (Z. Baram 2007. Within Modi‘im – An Investigation of the Secrets of the Land of the Maccabees and Their Heritage, Shilat, p. 264). For a brief moment the place was famous, but this was short-lived. Not long afterward, it was once again forgotten and returned to a state of neglect and desolation.
A survey prior to development was conducted in 2000 along the route planned for the construction of Highway 45, which was supposed to cross Horbat Ha-Gardi and was ultimately canceled (HA-ESI 117). The antiquities documented among the ruins included buildings of dressed stones, architectural elements, including a column fragment, hewn arcosolia tombs and burial caves, some have an entrance shaft and some – a vertical façade. In addition, quarries, a square rock-hewn reservoir (4 × 4 m), circular rock-cut basins (diam. c. 0.8 m, depth c. 0.4 m) and cisterns were noted. The ceramic finds included fragments of pottery vessels from Iron Age II and the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Early Islamic periods.
During 2005, B. Zissu conducted a study survey, on behalf of Bar Ilan University, in the three ruins along the ridge. The surveyors identified several loculi tombs dating to the end of the Second Temple period and clusters of mostly arcosolia tombs dating to the Byzantine period. At Khirbat Hammam, they documented buildings, architectural elements and potsherds from the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods (B. Zissu and L. Perry 2008. The Locations of Hasmonean Modi‘in and Byzantine Modita: Clarifying an Historical-Geographic Issue, Cathedra 125:18 [Hebrew]).
It should be noted that modern scholars tend to identify Horbat Ha-Gardi with the family burial compound of the Maccabees, or at least with the spot where the grave was marked in the Byzantine period; however, this determination is a wishful thinking, based on circumstantial evidence rather than on clear archaeological findings.
Prior to the commencement of cleaning and exposing the site in the recent years, the only evidence for the existence of the structure at the top of the spur were numerous large ashlars, architectural elements, column drums and keystones scattered across the surface (Figs. 6–10), alongside heaps of ruins (Fig. 11). Several years ago, religious entities placed a gravestone marking the tomb of Mattathias the Hasmonean inside the sheikh’s tomb.
The task of the current expedition was to relocate the structure, which was exposed by the nineteenth-century scholars and inspect its remains. The illustrations and maps prepared by Guérin and Clermont-Ganneau aided in locating the magnificent structure relative to the sheikh’s tomb and the eastern burial chamber inside it (No. 1). The vegetation was removed from and around the presumed area of Room 1; soil debris and stone collapse that seem to have closed the burial chamber were cleared away. Mechanical equipment was used to remove the stone collapse and the subsequent excavation was conducted manually. The soil debris contained several worn potsherds from the nineteenth century and modern finds.
It was possible to identify elements in the structure after cleaning Room 1, such as the upper outline of Burial Trough A and the hewn base of Pillar I (L40; Fig. 12), which are clearly visible in the plans and illustrations of Guérin and Clermont-Ganneau’s publications. These identifications served as anchor points in the area, against which it was possible to correctly locate the remains of the structure, which had partially been exposed in the past by these scholars (see Fig. 4). It should be emphasized that the removal of the soil debris and the cleaning were only done in the upper levels of Room 1 and that most of the chamber is still buried beneath the ruins. Further cleaning west of Room 1 uncovered massive wall stumps (W7, W8; thickness c. 1.5 m) built of two rows of large ashlars (average size 0.6 × 1.2 m) and a core of small stones. These walls remained from the northern and southern exterior walls of Room 2. The continuation of the structure to the west was completely robbed down to bedrock level. The remaining rock-cuttings (L10, L20) are the negatives of W9 and W10 foundations, which were hewn in the bedrock.
The tops of two parallel walls (W1 and W2, opposite W3), oriented southeast-northwest (c. 4 m between them), were exposed in a shallow excavation and in the cleaning of the area north of Room 1. The walls apparently formed a corridor that led to the opening of Burial Chamber 1 (what Clermont-Ganneau referred to as a vestibule) and they are straight extensions to the north of segments W1A and W3A that Clermont-Ganneau excavated. The wall stump W1 and its continuation W2, which belonged to the eastern wall, were cleaned (Fig. 13). A game-board fragment with small depressions carved in it was discovered in the debris above W1 (Fig. 14). Wall 2 (width c. 1 m) was built of square stones (average size 0.30 × 0.35 m). It seems that this was the foundation course, laid directly on top of the bedrock, upon which a rectangular ashlar of unusual dimensions (0.7 × 2.0 m, thickness 0.45 m; Fig. 15), having drafted margins and a smoothed prominent boss, was placed. This stone may indicate how the tomb complex originally appeared. The western wall (W3, width c. 1 m) was built of fine ashlars (average size 0.4 × 0.6 m) and formed a corner with Walls 4 and 5 that opened into other architectural spaces to the west (Figs. 16, 17), which are buried beneath an accumulation of debris and collapse.
A rectangular stone (L50; 0.7 × 1.1 m) is located next to W3, where it turns toward the corridor; it is unclear if this is a building stone that collapsed from W3 or a pillar doorjamb that supported a roof (Fig. 18).
The corridor between Walls 1, 2 and 3 was not excavated; it was only cleared of vegetation andexposed to a very shallow depth with the aid of mechanical equipment. Nevertheless, it is apparent that the floor of the corridor was covered with building stones that had collapsed from these walls.
A small section of a thin wall’s top (W6; exposed length 5 m, width 0.5 m) was cleaned above Wall Stump 3. It is aligned northeast-southwest and built of small fieldstones and ashlars in secondary use, which were taken from the collapse of the magnificent structure. The wall is a remnant of a later structure that was built on the ruins of the impressive building.
A rock-hewn cistern is located in the middle of the ruin (Figs. 2:6; 4: L60). The antiquities identified in close proximity to Horbat Ha-Gardi included arcosolia (Fig. 2:10, 11), underground cavities (Fig. 2: 7, 9, 15, 16), hewn cupmarks and basins (Fig. 2:1–4, 5, 7, 8), rock-cuttings (Fig. 2:12–14 and enclosures marked in purple line), a heap of building stones (Fig. 2, brown line) and remains of another building (Fig. 2, yellow line), which is probably a later construction that Conder mentioned after his visit to the site in 1874 and appears on the PEF map (C.R. Conder 1874. El Medyeh. PEQ 5:95; C.R. Conder and H.H. Kitchner 1882. The Survey of Western Palestine. Vol. II Samaria:340).
Geophysical testswere undertaken within the precincts of the ruin in August 2009, extending between the sheikh’s tomb and the earthen embankment (Fig. 2), across an area of c. 6 dunams (Fig. 19; black line – sheikh’s tomb and magnificent structure; pink patches denote subterranean cavities and probably lines of massive walls). The tests used two methods, ground penetrating radar (GPR) and frequency domain electromagnetism, to cross-check data and increase the reliability of the results. The method of work included establishing a grid of longitudinal and latitudinal lines in the area and repeated crisscross examinations going the length and breadth at different frequencies, which reflect different penetration depths. The test results showed that beneath the tomb of Sheikh Gharbawi there is a large subterranean cavity, whose eastern part is cut by a deep modern trench (Fig. 2, southern dugout). The dugout is probably connected to work done by the Jewish National Fund, which had built paths and afforested the area. An identical dugout (Fig. 2, northern dugout) is located north of the ruin and next to it is an earthen embankment containing mostly building stones (Fig. 2, green line) that were piled up by mechanical equipment.
The tests in the area between the sheikh’s tomb and the northern embankment also revealed dense architecture and underground cavities that can be divided into three and even four secondary compounds. The proposed division is based on the changes in the electromagnetic characteristics underground. It seems that a massive partition wall exists between each of the compounds. Parts of the walls were exposed in tests conducted in 2006 (above), some protruded below the structure of the sheikh’s tomb and most were hidden beneath the accumulation of earth and collapse.
The nature of the structure and its dating are still unclear. Although the test was superficial and limited and did not include a proper archaeological excavation, methodological assumptions, some of which had already been raised in the past, can be introduced, based on the test and an analysis of the findings.
1. The dimensions of the structure are much larger than those revealed by the nineteenth-century scholars; they include additional sections that extend across an area of 6 dunams, although it is not yet clear if these sections belong to one complex or to a single period.
2. The quality of the construction and the size of the funerary structure are uncommon in ancient architecture and are unparalleled in the tombs known at Modi‘in and its vicinity, testifying to its importance (Fig. 20; note the pillars that support the ceiling of Room 1. The bottom part of the reconstruction is based on the findings of Clermont-Ganneau; the upper part is an imaginary reconstruction). The remains can evince a tomb of magnificent splendor, built according to the best Jewish tradition, i.e., a rock-hewn tomb, a patrimony in which changes were made over the course of generations, the Hellenistic tradition, i.e., a built tomb including exedrae and architectural decorations, and the Egyptian tradition, i.e., it was probably covered with a pyramid that marks the ‘nefesh’ or soul.
3. A large tomb structure with a magnificent burial chamber (Room 1) in its center was exposed at the site. The corridor to the burial chamber allows us to cautiously compare it with the corridor, courtyards and anteroom in Jason’s Tomb in Jerusalem (Rahmani L.Y. 1967. Jason’s Tomb. IEJ 17:61–113).
The burial chamber (No. 1), which is built of enormous pillars and covered with stone slabs, is unusual in ancient funerary architecture and it is probably a later addition from the Byzantine period. Moreover, one can cautiously propose comparing it to the mausoleum structures of northwest Syria, such as Hass and Dana (M. de Vogue 1865–1877. Architecture civile et religieuse du Ier au VIIe siecles: Syrie centrale. Paris: Pls. 7, 73, 77, 88).
4. The structure has several construction phases, whose dates and nature are still unclear. One of the phases, which includes burial troughs paved with a mosaic adorned with a cross motif, dates to the Byzantine period. Such a pavement is uncommon in tombs of this period and does not occur in crypts; as the scholars of the site emphasized, it indicates that the early Christians sanctified the site. The early Christians and the Crusaders viewed the Maccabees as martyrs and following the discovery of their tombs, they probably considered the rehabilitation of the tomb as a worthy goal.
5. The assertions of Clermont-Ganneau and other scholars deserve to be more thoroughly re-examined.
6. The construction of the sheikh’s tomb next to the remains of the structure indicates that the Muslims also viewed the site as a holy place.
7. The cluster of names—Khirbat el-Midya, el-Qala‘a, Kabur al-Yahud, Sitt Gharbawi—around the ridge west of Nahal Modi‘in reinforces the theory that this is the region of ancient Modi‘in and the tomb of the Maccabees.
8. The size of the site, its plan, location, the nature of its construction and the architectural elements incorporated in it, are consistent with the descriptions of the tomb that appear in the Book of Maccabees and in Josephus.
The circumstantial archaeological evidence underlines the possibility of identifying Horbat Ha-Gardi with the family tomb of the Maccabees, or at least with the marking of the tomb in the Byzantine period. A proper and systematic archaeological excavation of the site will provide answers that either confirm or refute the identification of the site.